Standing on Top of the World

The trip to Mount Pilatus wasn’t a planned one. Our group was supposed to just have an afternoon off to relax and mill around the town of Lucerne, Switzerland. Spending the afternoon wandering about Lucerne would have been great, just sitting in a coffeeshop somewhere dreaming about visiting with Mark Twain swapping ideas as his writer’s block broke and he began to create the classic text “Huckleberry Finn.” What would hanging out with a mind like that do to someone’s writing skills? But anyway, it was a beautiful day and Lala, our tour director, had offered another option to us for the afternoon. Would we like to visit Pilatus?

Pilatus is a mountain massif with several peaks that offer a 360 degree view for miles. Tomlishorn is the highest peak at nearly 7,000 feet. Pilatus is a place of many stories and legends. Some say it’s where the bones of Pontius Pilate lay, but I’d prefer to leave that honor to the mountains of Italy if I had the choice. For me, I’ll go with the stories of the dragons. Some say that in 1421 there was a farmer who had a dragon fly so close to him that it caused the farmer to faint. I must say I might faint to if a dragon were to fly by. Anyway, when the farmer awoke he found a dragon stone and a lump of coagulated blood to confirm the truth of the tale. In 1499 it’s said that a huge winged dragon emerged from the wild waters of the Reuss River near the Spreuer Bridge in Lucerne, not far from the mountain. It is believed that this lindworm, a giant snake monster or dragon, had been surprised by a storm and washed into the Krienbach, a stream which flows from Pilatus into the Reuss. Then there is my favorite. One autumn a boy fell into a cave where he landed between two dragons. The dragons didn’t hurt the boy though. They let him rest there with him for the winter where he was warm and safe. In the spring one of the dragons left and flew away. The other told the boy that it was time to go. The dragon crawled from the cave and offered the boy his tail, pulling him safely from the cave to move on.

So many stories, so much magic. The day that we visited Pilatus only added to the magic. As far as I know, there were no dragon sightings, but still I know what I saw set my soul singing. We rode up in the mountain in the gondolas. I don’t think I’d ever ridden in a gondola anything like it before. The views were simply astounding. What was most striking was the occassional farm along the mountainside, just little places out in the middle of this immense natural space. I could only imagine what it would be like to wake up to the Swiss Alps and fall asleep in their arms with no neighbors, no city lights, just the mountain enchantment.

Our gondola ride took us to the Pilatus Kulm a famed site of hotels, tourist shops, and restaurants at the top of the mountain. It was a bit of a strange mix of the human capitalist and the mountain magic, but it was what it was. I was drawn, like everyone to peer over the guide walls to watch the sun on the mountains in simple wonderment. Outside of the shops there was an area where we could set up sunbathing chairs. Pure proof of climate change when people sunbathe in the Swiss Alps in January. I sat for only a few minutes, but they were beautiful minutes. Children were playing in the little patch of snow. The young girl on our tour and I discussed the possibilities of dropping a snowball over the fence. We opted not to when we saw hikers below and wondered if the icy mass might grow and cause an avalanche. While our little snowball was unlikely to cause a death by becoming the source of an avalanche, I was shocked to see people who did climb over the fences and scale the mountain sides without proper gear and in very unsafe situations. Mount Pilatus is considered one of the most dangerous hiking areas in the Swiss Alps with more than a dozen deaths since 2012. Plus, I admit to a bit of a fear of walking on ice.

So, to that fear of walking on ice. Most of our group was happy on the well paved level with lots of shops, music, and plenty of easy to access views. I needed to climb on. I couldn’t just be a few hundred feet from the summit and not go there, so I sent to the pathway to Esel. It wasn’t a long walk, but there were plenty of steps to climb. I’ve forgotten, or maybe never knew, how many steps along the narrow and crowded path. Strangely, for this time of year, there wasn’t a lot of snow and ice just patches here and there enough to keep me alternating my gaze from the majestic landscape to the land in front of my feet to assure my next step. It took maybe 20 minutes to climb to the top to the little tourist view point where I saw this strange memorial to our times, the masks, tied out there along the cross. It was clearly a spot of prayer of many kinds for many people and a place to celebrate and offer ourselves to freedom as we took in the clean mountain air. It was a powerful way to start my new year, connecting, letting go, facing fears, going to new heights, breathing deep, and taking in the magic while sliding along.

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